For a while, it looked like it would be business as usual in the 13th cross-town matchup between Morgan State and Towson. With Morgan State unable to stop Towson running back Jason Corle, and unable to mount any offense of its own, last night's locally televised game looked like the blowouts that were typical of the series during the 1980s and early '90s.
A funny thing happened on the way down memory lane, however, as Morgan State mounted a comeback that ended with a 28-22 win, its first in the series since 1981.
It also ended the Bears' nine-game losing streak to the Tigers and allowed them to regain some respect after a 66-10 loss to Florida A&M; last week.
"During the course of the week, players said they didn't want to go to classes or to dining hall because people were looking down on them," Morgan State coach Stanley Mitchell said.
The Bears (2-3), touted as a team with big-play potential before the season, finally started producing excitement after they went into halftime with a 16-3 deficit. The maligned Morgan State offensive line opened holes for running back Ali Culpepper, who rushed for 114 yards on 20 carries.
It also started protecting quarterback Willie McGirt, who teamed with wide receiver Armand Walters for two long scoring passes.
"Willie McGirt made some plays," Towson coach Gordy Combs said of the Patterson High graduate, who completed 11 of 22 passes for 199 yards.
"There were some negative comments about the offensive line in the paper," said Culpepper. "We talked about it and they took it personally and played well tonight."
The second scoring pass, a 61-yard play, put Morgan State ahead for good with 11: 48 left in the game, answering an eight-play, 88-yard touchdown drive by Towson (4-2) that had the Bears down by five points as the fourth quarter began.
McGirt had energized Morgan State when, under siege by several Towson defenders, he wriggled loose and heaved a 49-yard touchdown pass to Walters that cut the Tigers' lead to 16-10 with 10: 21 left in the third quarter.
The performance was a career-best for Walters, a backup to Marc Lester and Anthony Collins who emerged with 129 yards on four catches.
"I knew that I would back up [Collins], but my only goal was to win," Walters said. "I knew that those two were the main guys, but I wanted to take the pressure off of them, and I took the pressure off of them tonight."
After Walters' first score, the Bears got another opportunity when the snap to Towson punter Mike Walck went high and his fumble was recovered by Morgan State's Jamar Williams at the Towson 14.
Four plays later, Culpepper scored from 3 yards out, giving Morgan State its first lead of the game at 17-16 with 8: 23 remaining.
Meanwhile, the Bears' defense had taken the game from Corle, who had rushed for 161 yards in the first half on the way to 193 yards on 29 carries.
At halftime, the feeling was that Towson's success on the ground came from correctable errors on the part of Morgan State.
"We really didn't have difficulty up front," Morgan State defensive lineman Larry Tucker said. "They had success because of mistakes we had made."
Corle had given the Tigers an early lead with a 65-yard touchdown run with 12: 07 left in the first quarter, and later caught an 11-yard touchdown pass with 4: 39 that gave Towson its 16-3 halftime lead.
All told, the Tigers dominated Morgan State, out-gaining the Bears, 290 yards to 138, including 191 yards on the ground. Like last week's game against Holy Cross, however, Towson failed to take advantage of a few touchdown opportunities.
Next for Towson
Site: Greene Stadium, Wash.
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Yesterday: Lost to Florida A&M;, 40-34, OT.
Next for Morgan
Opponent: North Carolina A&T;
Site: PSINet Stadium
When: Saturday, 3: 30 p.m.
Yesterday: Beat Hampton, 41-24.